As a breeder you often get asked by other new breeders, “What is your best piece of advice?” Aside from all the sciencey stuff like genetics, nutrition and health testing, my best advice IS GET YOUR FACILITY IN ORDER FIRST! This may seem like a very easy requirement for breeding but I can tell you it is something so easily bypassed. I can also 100% tell you it is so much harder to think about creating your housing AFTER you have cats. Being one of those that didn’t entirely take housing seriously, then being thrown into it, I’m here to help think ahead and really consider a major part of your breeding program as part of your considerations of becoming a Breeder. I did get my first girl before I had any housing set into place. We were buying a home in which 1400 sq feet of the home would be for the cats. Before purchasing, everything was just a semi finished basement. I figured I have one female, I have plenty of time and ideas of how my facility will be. I figured I have the space, it’ll come together. As what always seems to happen, I did NOT expect the unexpected. Within 9 months of moving into our new home we acquired 7 of my mentors cats and that’s when we had a problem. We went from three girls and a boy, to 8 girls and 3 boys PLUS our spayed bengal and two domestic rescues. We ended up “housing” cats in every single room of our house and it was like that for a few months. On top of that, all of our cats went into heat at once soon we also had kittens.
So lets rewind a little. We bought our home before we started breeding with the intention of breeding. There was 1440 sq feet of semi finished basement already separated into large rooms so it was perfect to customize to exactly what we needed. We figured we had plenty of time honestly. When we moved in March 2017 we had one girl already but she was only 6 months old. End of March and beginning of June we were getting our second girl and first boy who were both 4 months old. We thought we had time. Nope definitely not. Our mentor was retiring and quickly had to rehome his breeding program which meant that in almost no time we welcomed in 2 more mature males and 5 mature females. Luckily we had no children BUT, since we did not have anything but one kennel set up, we had cats in every single room of the house...bathrooms, guestroom, master bedroom, living room, office, EVERYWHERE. Three years later renovations (2020) are still occurring. Why has it taken so long you ask? It's very hard to renovate when you have nowhere to put a cat and paint when we have kittens running around let alone making sure you have the resources, team and finances to complete the proper renovations in a timely manner. It can be frustrating. It would have been nice to have the finances and ability to just have everything done all at once. That being said I have learned quite a lot. We have tried various things to make the cattery perfect which is where this article stems from. At the end of the day aside from health testing, socialization and confirmation, my best advice for new breeders will always be having your breeding facility in place BEFORE getting your cats. BOYS Plain and simple you really don’t want your boys in your main living space. You are lucky if they do not spray but sooner or later they most likely will. I was lucky that my first boy Vaaldir didn’t start spraying until he was 10 months old, but, my three other boys that I kept from birth, started at 6, 7 and 8 months old. I have obviously come to terms with my lifestyle in regards to living with cats and kittens, but that being said, I value my living space and would prefer not be cleaning every nook and cranny of my home when I could build a place that is ideal for my boys while still providing a quality and enriching space for them to comfortably live.
When we moved in the main cattery was the first space that was planned and renovated for our first boy. The partially finished basement was divided into four parts, a utility and laundry room, a car garage and a 14 x 28’ rectangle with a windowed door and two large windows. We started with vinyl self sticking tiles. They were super easy to apply and only required some cutting to fit on the wall. Not only did they add some nice color and texture to the walls but they actually stood up to the boys directly spraying on them. Really the only issue we had was one of the girls used a corner as a scratching post.
To finish it off we added a nice wood trim along the top. The walls were already painted when we got to the house. I didn’t think much about what type of paint, if the tiling went far enough up the wall the boys couldn’t spray on the walls….welp they found their way. Eventually we painted with a high gloss interior/exterior paint. Because it was high gloss, it was waterproof, mildew and mold proof and often used in household bathrooms. It was in ours which is where we got the idea. After painting the cattery with it I was very pleased. The walls were now super easy to clean, I could easily just wipe them off. The urine didn’t seep in or discolor the wall! The floors we painted with an epoxy paint. Tip make sure you read all instructions, don’t cheap out of the product you buy and treat the pre existing floor as directed. We purchased Sealkrete epoxy paint from Lowe’s and applied two coats of one color, than another two after deciding the color wasn’t for us. We also add a top clear coat. Sadly less than a week later the paint came off with painters tape! Yes painters tape. Needless to say I wasn’t too happy. The purchase price was ideal but the end results definitely were not. So a friend suggested Rust Bullet Duragrade industrial epoxy paint. It was quite expensive but boy was it like petting silk. It was easy to apply, self setting, thick and definitely waterproof. It does require complete ventilation of the space and will need touch ups occasionally. Other than the cost I highly recommend this product if you are not doing tile. After the epoxy paint was applied we finished off the wall with a waterproof rubber base that lined the whole room to prevent urine from getting in any cracks and also helping to preserve the edges of the tiles. This was super useful but it was hard to apply in long stripes. We added liquid nails as well as regular nails to get it to stay and dry. I think it's a good product but the application could have been done better and we will probably be replacing it in the future with something different or reinstalled better.
The biggest investment at this point was the kennels. With now having three boys it was essential that they had their own space to call home. While we let the boys out in rotation we could not allow them to free roam unless we wanted to break up some territorial fights. We started off with a very well planned PVC pipe structure. It was inexpensive and lightweight but would hold up to the boys and be easy to clean. We used white PVC piping that we spray painted to a desired color then zip tied galvanized and coated wiring tight to the PVC piping.
It was fairly easy to construct but unfortunately despite my very hard work...it was completely lopsided. Too frustrated I chose to purchase premade kennels. I also didn’t have the time to build new ones since we already brought in two males unexpectedly from our mentor. We needed the kennels ASAP.
After searching we found the perfect modular and pretty reasonably priced kennel set up. I love how modular it was so you can add or take kennels away and it's easy to build. They are strong, coated with quality paint and designed
specifically for housing animals. You also have the added bonus of add on accessories and a slew of sizes to choose from.
The disadvantage of the product we chose was it had no roof because they were designed for dogs. We could buy them from the company but it was beyond expensive. Instead we chose to purchase steel roofing sheets from Lowe’s. At first this was a great solution that prevented the boys from getting out of the kennels however because it was solid it did prevent optimal light from coming into the kennels so we had to attach lights on the back sides of the kennels. In addition because they were solid the cats could climb up the side of the kennels and walk on the tops. This was fine and dandy until one day we found out some of the cats were peeing and pooping up there. Gross! We learned quickly from that so we replaced that with 2 x 4” wire. This not only prevents the cats from climbing on top but also let in so much more natural light. It was easy to roll it on and secure tightly with zip ties The kennels also had nothing between them to prevent the boys from fighting with each other. The company did provide “anti fighting barriers” but they were close to $200 a panel. So i thought what else could work? I decided to get a tarp that I secured with zip ties. Not only were they inexpensive but they were water proof and easy to change. It worked perfectly preventing the boys from bothering each other. Enrichment
Now this was the fun part for me. Socialization and enrichment are a huge part of my program that I pride myself on. Because the boys are not always with girls and cannot free roam the house they need some extra TLC to stay happy, healthy and mentally stimulated. When the cats first came I didn’t 100% think about practicality I just thought of fun things and ran with it. In addition to balls, catnip and other “typical” cat toys. I started with a kiddy pool and ball pit balls. Great idea in theory especially because it all was plastic, except someone peed in it and balls that can float were harder to clean so we had to throw it all away. I definitely will be revisiting this but won’t putting it in the main cattery. I also have recently learned you can wash the balls more easily by putting them in a laundry bag. We added lots of cat trees to the cattery. I highly recommend very large trees. While small trees are still good for scratching, these cats laugh at the small puny trees. They play and are super rough on them so you will want something sturdy. Because the boys peed on their trees and were so rough on them we chose to get cheaper ones. Very quickly we had to replace them, however since the boys peed on them, I honestly wasn’t interested in purchasing the expensive ones (Cat King Tree is an amazing brand) so we decided to build them ourselves. Not only could we design them ourselves to have desirable features, they were sturdy, heavy duty, waterproof and less expensive. We also love adding a cat wheel to the cattery. Many of our cats love running on the wheel. When this first came out I thought it was the dumbest thing. Why would a cat want to run on a hamster wheel? Well this is probably one of the best things I got for them. It helps them get a lot of energy out and is a good source of exercise. The biggest issue with the wheels is the boys did spray all over them which made the bolts of the wheel rust the wheel to a stand still. That being said there have been new recommendations to prevent this such as covering the wheel in flex seal for example to prevent the bolts from corroding and make the wheel even easier to clean.
Another cattery favorite are the climbing shelves. The store bought ones can be kind of expensive but if you are resourceful you can make your own. It drastically increases vertical space and creates a wonderful highway so everyone has their own space. We find shelves with removable carpet or fabric works great so they can be easily cleaned and replaced without having to remake the whole shelf. We also recommend purchasing shelving brackets and screws that hold a lot of weight and securing them into studs. While the cats may not weigh a ton when the cats run like maniacs across the shelves and jump from a shelf two feet away, it puts a lot of force on the shelves and can tear them right out the wall eventually. You will also want brackets that are a triangular shape. They are stronger than the L shaped brackets. Downsides
The Main Cattery housed the boys and this worked but it was not ideal in all honesty. One of the biggest disadvantages was while everything was pretty waterproof and cleanable, the boys were in such close quarters that spraying was a constant issue. We would clean the whole cattery and within an hour there was more pee in multiple places. It would have been ideal if we had a drain (or multiple) in the floor to hose and squeegee everything off. Even within a day the cattery would smell again no matter how many times we cleaned or did the litters. Being able to completely clean the cattery with a hose and having lots of ventilation are two biggies to provide a great space for boys. Most of our breeder friends housed their boys outside. I wasn’t too keen on the idea. I wouldn't be able to hear breedings, I was concerned about wild animals or fleas, ticks and other bugs and they were outside, would that be good for them? Was it safe? Would someone try to steal them? After reevaluating the living quarters they were in and speaking with other breeders, in 2020 we decided it was time to upgrade the boys. We felt even with all we provided their spaces could be better, more enriching so we embarked on Condos for the boys. We found some great examples on pinterest and were connected with a wonderful construction team who built us our dream condos for the boys. We learned from our experience with the main cattery before and greatly improved the boys spaces.
Each boy has their own condo. There is an inside part that is 100% insulated, heated and cooled. The whole floor inside and out is made of deck trex which is waterproof and easy to hose off and because it's arranged like a deck it has natural drainage. There is a large window inside which can be opened on nice days and let in extra light (in addition to the ceiling light)as well as additional ventilation. From the bottom of the floor, up the walls and over the whole ceiling there is plastic paneling. Anything not in panelling is painted with a waterproof stain or paint and all edges, cracks and crevices are closed with silicone. Again this allows easy for easy cleaning. Each boy has a litter box, nestbox, food and water bowl as well as climbing shelves and hammocks on the walls.
Finally there is a 4 way cat door that leads into an outdoor enclosure. The deck trex continues on a raised deck enclosed by a secure fence. The outdoor space is open to the fresh air and sunlight (but does have an electrical light as well) The space has a nice raised mesh bed for lounging in the sun , climbing shelves and natural thick branches to climb on wrapped with sisal rope. Each boy also has a cat wheel. Regardless of the wheel, precautions should always be taken, so our wheels have a custom designed plywood base that prevents anyone from getting under the wheel or have a paw pinched while it's going. It also has a chain hanging from the ceiling of the condo so if for some reason the wheel comes off the base, the chain catches it preventing it from falling and hurting anyone.
There is also an access door as well to the outside space for me to enter in from. Both doors are secured with a padlock and each condo has numerous battery powered and wired security cameras that are connected to our phones. Originally we used the Zmodo brand cameras. These cameras were a decent price about $30 per camera. They had day and night vision, motion detection, could be inside or out and could be viewed on your phone. Unfortunately, you couldn’t hear any sound and they were wired so some of our cats did chew through a few cords. When we went to replace them and add more we could no longer connect them to our wifi even with lots of customer support so we decided to sell them and purchase new ones. After much research we landed on HeimLife and we are more than pleased with them. They too are cost effective at $40 per camera, app operated and suitable for indoors and out, but unlike the zmodo cameras they have audio and intercom functions, rechargeable battery operated as well as solar capabilities in addition to being able to be wired to a power source. The picture is clear day and night and the alert system isn’t obnoxious. The only problem we had was we didn’t realize that the battery power was related to the activity detected on the cameras. The more activity the quicker they drained. For our active boys that meant we needed to charge our cameras every 2-3 days unfortunately. So we did end up having to plug them in. Because we didn’t want to drill a hole from the outside of the Condos in or crowd up the outlet inside we added an electrical extender to the ceiling light outside. This attachment not only allows the bulb to screw in but has two outlets attached as well. Outside the kennels we have planted flowers and other plants to repel pests, but attract birds and butterflies (at a safe distance) for the cats to watch and be entertained by. We also will be adding moving lawn ornaments and window chimes for further enrichment. While it was the largest investment I have ever made, I am so pleased with the boys’ condos. Their lives are so much more enriched. They get free air, natural light and a whole lot more to play on and to watch around them. Some Afterthoughts
We love the kennels. After about a month, the condos had been through sun, rain and snow as well as cold temperatures and pretty heavy use so we have a few things to add to our wishlist many of which had easily been fulfilled. 1. Handle and lock on the inside of the door for when you are in there so no one can push out
2. No lip at the door when you walk in so you can sweep dirt and debris right out the door
3. Insulated platform to prevent water from freezing even inside
4. Built in insulated and plastic paneled nest box with hinge for easy access and cleaning
The boys are typically one of the biggest considerations in the set up of your cattery due to their extra enrichment requirements and more extensive needs for keeping things clean and contained. The next and equally important space to consider is your kitten rooms. At Elysian Bengals our kitten room is basically a daycare. It was designed to provide the kittens with lots of stimulating and enriching things to play with and experience as they are socialized to being house cats before they go to their new families. This is probably the most fun room in the cattery for me.
Just like the boys’ space this space should be easy to clean. While eventually the babies will be potty trained these little bodies can be surprisingly messy with their litter, potty accidents, water and more. To maintain cleanliness and ease of cleaning, the main floor is painted with the same industrial level epoxy paint and the walls are painted with the same high gloss enamel like paint as we used when the boys were in the main cattery. We also have foam EVAA puzzle mats on part of the room for a softer padded surface for the cats to run around on. It’s a great solution because they come in a wide variety of colors and patterns plus they are waterproof, easy to clean and can easily be replaced if needed. This room is fully set up with cat trees, wall furniture, a bed with memory foam mattress and pillows, toys, music, toddler slides, rope swings and more! This is the perfect environment to keep stimuli and enrichment one of our top priorities while keeping things clean and safe.
Also in the kitten room are four nursing and delivery suites. These rooms are designed in various sizes to give mom a safe and secure location to have their kittens in a room big enough to start socializing and play without being too big that we had potty accidents. These rooms are perfect before the babies are old enough to be in the large kitten room. Each room enters through a storm door. Storm doors are lightweight, easy to install, less expensive than standard doors, easy to clean and have a window
Another important consideration is a quarantine space for any upcoming new cats for your program, sick cats and even those in hard heats. We built two of these off of our kitchenette away from any “healthy” cats. The rooms are low stress with dim lighting and smaller in size to allow ill animals to recover in a quiet, safe area. These rooms are similar to the Nursing and Delivery Suites to allow for easy cleaning but are separated from the rest of the cattery to prevent cross contamination and stress from seeing/hearing rambunctious kittens, calling boys and girls and heavy foot traffic.
Quick Tips Coming Soon!
You may have noticed that we have a kitchenette for the cats….yup you heard that right. Our cats have their very own kitchen as well!. You got it, the cats are spoiled. Being a strictly raw feeding cattery, it's important we have a space to prepare and store the cat’s raw food and other supplies. This space is complete with industrial shelves, cabinets, prep counter and four freezers. In addition the kitchenette doubles as a laundry room equipped with a slop sink. Currently this room is the last to be renovated so we’ll update this section.
Designing the perfect cattery can be challenging and certainly labor and financially intensive but aside from healthy and well socialized cats it is a core aspect to your program. While we all treat our breeding cats as our companions they are not your average cat thus requiring special accommodations to not only make your cattery easy to clean but enriching, stimulating and a space your babies will enjoy. Remember to always expect the unexpected and prepare ahead of time.